All original work © 2009 - 2017 Alexey Provolotsky

23 June 2011

Sticks and carrots


The place looked no different from those few shreds that were still hanging on to his memory. It was all unmistakably familiar: the big top, the arena, the cotton candies… Only the big top seemed lower now, not so huge and breathtaking; the arena looked smaller, humbler and perhaps had some new covering; the cotton candies seemed too fluffy and screechingly disgusting – all clutched in the excited hands of other kids, including his own 6 year old son. 

At first it was interesting. Surreal – yet somehow amusing. But the moment the cheesy orchestra drums kicked in, he felt gruesome, awkward, out of place. It didn’t help that the girl sitting behind him was so incredibly tiny – he wondered whether she could see anything behind his enormous back and unwieldy hair. She didn’t complain, but he still lowered himself deeper into his seat to look no taller than the boy who was sitting in front of him. His son seemed extremely animated, only you never know with children: one trick gone wrong – and it’s all ruined. Totally and forever. 

The clowns were marginally funny. That’s it, marginally. Though he had no memory of ever loving them all that much. The jokes sounded as silly as they were when he was 10. Yet somehow the whole thing worked – as if there was something in the sugary air, something in that atmosphere that allowed them to make sense, to keep afloat and never to fall flat despite all their ridiculous make-up. And anyhow – his 6 year old laughed so hard at their exaggerated pantomimes and clumsy juggling attempts that he had to suppress all his cynicism. Sometimes in the cinema everybody seems so hushed and serious that you play along – however banal and predictable and inane the sappy little drama might be. 

The jugglers themselves were a disappointment. The moment the main juggler took up five balls, it looked like he should have taken six. And even when as much as seven or eight yellow balls were simultaneously swinging and dancing in a ring, you still felt underwhelmed. That’s it then, that’s all you can show us?.. Yet it looked and sounded as if no one in the audience shared his feeling. 

He just felt sad. However excited his son was, however irresistible the taste of pop corn during the intermission, it just didn’t seem right. Some engrossing, ancient sadness kept laying eggs all over his brain and heart. He would have cried – only there was all this excitement going on around. “You’re so damn infantile”, she used to say. 

The rope-walkers and air acrobats were truly impressive. The only thing mildly irritating about them was their over-the-top acting. But that was the inevitable circus way of performing – even the presenter had to display some cringe-inducing histrionic tendencies. The kids didn’t mind. And neither did the few adults scattered sparsely over the four sectors of the circus. 

He enjoyed the apes. Maybe because they acted like humans. Everybody knew that, of course, but he still found it appealing, unbelievable. The way they ate, looked, even walked… He knew plenty of people who did all that in a lot more sloppy manner. And he himself, she used to mention… 

Finally, there were all these trained animals. Trained parrots were the absolute highlight: they danced, they sang, they skated, they played basketball… Lions, tigers and horses didn’t work for him though – not because he was outraged by the sticks and carrots ways (like he was when he was small), but because he now saw no magic or ghastliness in the cracking of the whip. It just felt like routine. 

“Why no magicians?” asked his son when they stepped outside. 

He now remembered he’d promised his son a handful of amazing tricks, mysteries, disappearances. He should have read the circus programme more properly. After all, it was his own idea to go. 

“I’ll show you a couple of card tricks myself next time you come to my place, okay?” 

“Okay” said his son. He was too excited to be disappointed. “Will we go again?” 

“Yeah, sure”. 

But no, next time it would have to be his mother. He was not going ever again.  


While he was quietly leading his son through the dusky city streets, his thoughts kept returning to those divorce papers that were still lying on his desk.

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